A Le Grand almond processor has filed a lawsuit in Stanislaus County Superior Court, seeking $4.8 million from a plant manager and three others who it says conspired to steal from Minturn Nut Co.
In legal papers filed Tuesday, an attorney alleges that former plant manager Robert Adams of Turlock falsified documents to get paid for 812,208 pounds of almonds that may have been stolen property, that were full of almond refuse or "hash" that was not marketable, or did not exist.
Attorney Adam Stewart of Modesto claims that Adams and his helpers stole $1.3 million in a scheme that went on for eight years. The company is seeking repayment as well as punitive damages. It insists that its losses have not been passed on to the growers with whom they do business.
The lawyer said Minturn Nut did not notice the losses because it processes 45 million pounds of almonds annually and depended on Adams, a trusted administrator who earned $110,000 a year but still insisted on handling many menial tasks himself.
"He was a tremendous control freak," Stewart said.
The company started checking its records after a Stanislaus County sheriff's detective came to Minturn Nut to question Adams in connection with an investigation of Randall Alfred Burtis, 47, of Patterson, who was arrested Dec. 26 and accused of stealing from Westside Hulling Association in Westley.
After the Jan. 28 visit, Adams left the plant with company documents in hand, Stewart said.
Company officials then found a steady stream of suspicious payments to Clint Shaw and determined that Shaw was an 18-year-old who had dated Burtis' daughter before he moved to Oklahoma, Stewart said.
The company traced checks payable to Shaw to a joint account at Farmers and Merchants Bank in Lodi, which was held by Shaw, Adams, Burtis and Ron Solado of Ripon.
Stewart said Shaw did not know about the account.
The lawsuit names Adams; his wife, Shelly Adams; Burtis; and Solado, calling them co-conspirators in a fraudulent scheme.
Stewart said he included Shelly Adams because she benefited from ill-gotten gains, including 10 acres along a golf course that she and her husband purchased in Florida. He is asking the court to freeze assets so Minturn Nut can recoup its losses if it prevails.
Attorney Lisa Jimenez of Stockton said the Westside Hulling Association is considering a similar lawsuit against Burtis, who was their top manager.
Though Burtis was arrested by the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department more than three months ago, the district attorney's office has not filed charges. The others have not been arrested or charged with any crimes.
Stewart said he could not offer more details about the case because he does not want to jeopardize a criminal investigation of the three men. Assistant District Attorney Carol Shipley declined to comment. A spokesman for the Sheriff's Department could not be reached for comment.
Defense attorney Kirk McAllister said his client, Robert Adams, denies the charges and is looking forward to his day in court. Defense attorney Robert Forkner said Burtis also denies any wrongdoing. Defense attorney David Renteria, who represents Salado, could not be reached for comment.
Bee staff writer Susan Herendeen can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2338.